In years past, the main focus for defensive coordinators when preparing to slow down the Stanford football team's offense was on stopping the Cardinal’s vaunted run game.
While Stanford still has Bryce Love, although he’s dealt with injuries and has had nowhere near the season most people expected, things have changed a bit down on The Farm.
“They’ve certainly thrown the ball a lot more and had a lot more success than they have in years past,” Oregon State defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said Wednesday as the Beavers (2-7, 1-5 Pac-12) were preparing to face the Cardinal (5-4, 3-3) this Saturday.
“They still have that power run game element that they do once in a while but I think they’ve found a quarterback they like and they’ve got a good core of receivers that they spread the ball around to.”
That quarterback is K.J. Costello, who has completed 199 of 297 passes for 2,512 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has thrown nine interceptions.
Costello has some tall receivers and tight ends to get the ball to.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Kaden Smith and Trenton Irwin all have more than 40 catches this season with Arcega-Whiteside (6-foot-3) leading the way with 48 for 754 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Smith, a 6-5 tight end, is second with 44 catches for 601 yards and two touchdowns, while Irwin, a 6-2 receiver, is third with 46 receptions for 502 yards and a score.
Colby Parkinson, a 6-7 tight end, has 17 catches for 244 yards and three scores.
Tibesar said that because of that height, the Cardinal have won most of the 50-50 balls.
“They’ve done an unbelievable job all season long,” he said. “You look at some of the contested catches they made against Oregon when they had that come-from-behind win, there’s DBs all over them and right next to them and they can just outrebound you basically, for lack of a better term.”
The Beavers’ tallest defensive backs in the two-deep are senior safety Drew Kell and redshirt freshman Jeffrey Manning Jr, both listed at 6-1.
Projected starting corners Dwayne Williams (5-9) and Isaiah Dunn (6-0) will also have their hands full.
With that in mind, Tibesar joked that “we’ve gone to a stretch rack to try to lengthen our DBs. That’s been part of our process all week long.”
All joking aside, Tibesar understands the task at hand for his defensive backs.
“We’re going to have to battle and try to compete and try to separate their hands when they come down with the football to get it out,” Tibesar said. “We don’t have any 6-7 corners and they’ve got some 6-7 receivers out there.”
The defensive backs also know it will be a challenge.
“We know we’ve got to be physical with them because they’re going to try to physical with us and we’ve got to play the ball,” Williams said.
Added Kell: “It just means we’ve got to be technically sound. We’ve got to get them close, don’t give then space because any space they’ll box us out. We’ve just got to be close, tight and play physical.”
While the Cardinal have thrown it more this season, the Beavers can’t count out Love, a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the season. Love has just 490 yards on 111 attempts but still leads the Cardinal in that category.
“He’s a dynamic football player and if he gets open space he can take it to the house,” Tibesar said. “So we’ve just got to obviously be aware of where he’s at. When he’s running the football we’ve got to try to get multiple hats to him because it’s going to be hard for one guy all alone to bring him down.”
Tibesar said the Cardinal have more personnel groups than probably any team the Beavers face. That means the defenders have to be ready for just about anything.
“I think we just need to be fundamentally sound and know who’s in at personnel whether it’s two, three tight ends, one tight end, whatever it is. Just know our gaps,” freshman linebacker John McCartan said.
Oregon State’s offense will also have a tough task against Lance Anderson’s defense.
"I've called a lot of games against him,” offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. “They're a very sound defense. I always think they do a really good job against the run. They want to make the game physical.”
It would help getting the running game on track after netting just 31 yards last week against USC. The Trojans held freshman sensation Jermar Jefferson to 58 yards on 18 attempts.
“I feel like they're going to do the same that a lot of teams have done with us — kind of stacking the box with Jermar at running back and bringing blitzes,” said receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. “It's going to leave one on one opportunities for us and we're going to have to make plays."
Oregon State nearly pulled the upset last season, but a late fumble allowed the Cardinal to score the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left for a 15-14 victory.
“We did go toe-to-toe with them last year but that was last year and this is this year,” senior linebacker Adam Soesman said. “I don’t think we need any more added motivation going into this game, we’re going to be ready and prepared and give it our best shot.”